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Welcome to week one of the Master of Druidism Course. Each week you will receive a discourse that talks about the the mystery of the Druids. You will be receiving an email for this course approximately once a week. If for any reason you don’t receive one, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org so she can re-send your material.
Master of Druidism
Universal Life Church Seminary
Lesson 1 - Introduction & History of the Druids
Introduction to the Druidic Society
When people approach the topic of Druids, the first thing that comes to mind is ancient Pagan times. They were a mystical culture, seen in the shadows cloaked by darkness. There have been many speculations of the stereotypical Druid, garbed in black flowing cloaks with long grey beards, wrinkled hands holding a strong oak staff. Other images are of a beautiful Crone, dressed in deep regal purples with a Raven to guide her. When we reflect upon this image, we think of a wise Elder, a grandfather or a grandmother figure. A male or female figure, who advises the youth and adults, observes silently and only speaks when they have something important to say.
Other times you hear talk of the darker sides of the Druids. The rumors and stories which claim they sacrificed virgins on full moons to honor their Pagan Gods, the ones who were brutal and cruel to their people. This is farthest from the truth. The first is actually closer than the last.
In this course we will review the history and rich culture of the Druids. Where they came from, who they were and what they were. We will explore the magic and mystery, truth and fiction- but most of all- we will learn about a truly organized and fascinating culture.
No matter which path you follow, you may soon discover a romance and a family within this belief system that is still very much a live and roaming the wild green Irish countryside. You too may soon fall in love with this gentle society.
I welcome you here to learn about the Druid people, and a wonderful loving society filled with Spirit, hope and old beliefs steeped in ancient tradition.
The History of the Druids
So you wish to know about the history of the Druids?
Come closer then, grab a cup of herbal tea and be prepared to discover.
For this tale, I would take you back to the time of the ancient Celts, when Ireland was in turmoil and still roaming free with spirit and enthusiasm. This is a time where the tales, long told by firelight, were first told. The time when the tales were more stories of events, rather than the imaginings of a clever storyteller. Aye, there were many stories told by firelight of those days that have gone by.
Imagine yourself in a place such as this, pulling your heavy cloak about your shoulders. From the mists in the distance, there raised a steady drumming, voices chanting in rhythm. Can you hear the rhythm? Let the sounds lull you back to a different time and place.
Let’s go back, father back in time, to a place not only of riches, but nobility and dusty roads. A time in ancient historic Rome before the pillars fell, before the land was filled with blood. This is during a time when its citizens worshipped the Gods and Goddesses such as Athena, Apollo and Diana. It was also a time where there were festivals, gladiators and the romantic elaboration of Marc Anthony, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. There are the distinct sounds of the market, wheels and carts going here and there, orders from the Roman guards, the sounds of laughter echoing on the clay structures.
It is said that the first accounts or known records of the Druid society came about in the time of Ancient Rome around 400’s BCE. There is documentation that they had first spread out in 1000 BCE, and by 200 BCE had reached the farthest parts of the British Isles. However, there has been much speculation that they were around earlier towards 4000 BCE near the Black Sea.
Their true origin remains a mystery much like the fey in the mists that rise in the early mornings of Ireland. This is due mostly to the fact that the history of the Druids have been passed down orally through stories and tales, rather than by script.
The accounts by Roman historians show that Druids were not truly a religion, but rather a society of people in the midst of Pre-Christianity. A Roman author by the name of Diogenes the Cynic placed the Druids in the same class with well known mathematicians, philosophers, astronomers and historians from various regions. He found the society to be fascinating and full of great wisdom. They were a professional culture located in various sections of the Celtic Nations of Western Europe and the British Isles. This is also how the Romans knew of them and of their society.
The Druids had three basic and distinct sub-casts, as shown by the Roman author Strabo, each with their own particular specialization.
Among all the tribes, generally speaking, there are three classes of men or women held in special honor:
The bárdoi (bards) are singers and poets
The ováteis (ovate) are interpreters and seers of sacrifice and natural philosophers
And the druídai (druidic), who, in addition to the science of nature, also studied moral philosophy.
We shall get to the castes at a later date.
During this time period, there started a great wave of wars and oppression. Lands were divided by nobles, Clans grouped together to be ruled under one nominated Chieftain and religion was starting to inch its way across the towns and lands. Everywhere there was mass confusion, chaos and turmoil.
It is said much of the known origin and history of the Druids is biased solely because the Celts invaded Rome in 390 BCE and Greece in 379 BCE. Other documentation comes from the myths and literature of Christian monks.
Each time the story is told, it is crafted and romanticized to bring into light not the darkness, but the beauty of the society during the time. As with all reality however, with every day of peace, comes a time of darkness. In the famous words of Socrates, "Beauty is a short-lived tyranny."
Diogenes Laertius, upon recording information about the Druidic society, was known for saying that the teaching and ethics of the society were “riddles and dark sayings.” (Hence why they call him Diogenes the Cynic) One of them which he recorded, and which has been taken to heart by many modern Druids, is the teaching that "the Gods must be worshipped, and no evil done, and honorable behavior maintained." There are more references among classical authors concerning the Druidic doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
For example, Pomponius Mela recorded,
One of their dogmas has come to common knowledge, namely, that souls are eternal and that there is another life in the infernal regions and this has been permitted manifestly because it makes the multitude readier for war. And it is for this reason too that they burn or bury, with their dead, things appropriate to them in life; and that in times past they even used to defer the completion of business and the payment of debts until their arrival in another world.
History is told with base cut and dry facts, and with little humor or lightness. Much like the artifacts found by antiquaries and scholars, there is more dust and riddles then vibrancy and character. To get to the very core of the Druid society, and who they actually were, we have to go deeper into the layers of dust, and deeper still into the meaning of what the dust is hiding.
I shall now take you to the time of Julius Caesar, in 59 BC. This is a time of pride, passion and most of all betrayal. The fall of the Roman Empire is at hand, when darkness laced the happy towns, and war was an everyday occurrence. The fullest account of the Druids and their religion is that given by Julius Caesar in his history of his wars in Gaul in 59-51 BC.
Caesar is insistent that Druidism originated in Britain, although there is no reason to believe that all the features of the society, as it was practiced in Gaul, were present in Britain. Interpreting Druidism is difficult, for the Druids refused to commit anything about their beliefs and rituals to writing, and modern inquirers are obliged to rely on the accounts of the classical authors who have a tendency to concentrate upon the ghoulish, the bizarre and the malign. Later evidence in the early literature of Wales, and more particularly in that of Ireland, can be useful, although what has been preserved went through a process of selection and modification by Christian scribes.
The essence of Druidism seems to have been a kind of Pantheism, and links have been discerned between it and some aspects of Hinduism. The names of some 400 gods are known, most of whom seem to have had a much localized cult. The correct performance of ritual was central to the society, and the prescribed pattern of ceremonies presumably constituted the greater part of the 20-year training undertaken by an apprentice Druid. Human sacrifice was practiced.
When the Druids of Anglesey were attacked by the Romans in AD 61, their altars, according to Tacitus, 'were drenched with the blood of prisoners'. As the Romans considered Druidism to be a nationalistic society underpinning British resistance to the Empire, they were determined to suppress it.
In the 18th century, with the growing interest in natural religion and in 'the noble savage', Druidism captured the imagination of the European intelligentsia. In Wales, the Welsh poetic tradition was believed to have been inherited from the Druids and Edward Williams (Lolo Morganwg) succeeded in 1820 in grafting Druidical ceremonies of his own devising upon the cultural festival, the Eisteddfod, an association which has lasted until today. The Druids followed much of Celtic cultures and ways of life, by their Celtic Wheel of the Year, or Sabbats, and their Religious faith.
They gathered in Groves, or places of worship hidden among trees, or in the hillsides of the Irish countryside.
Many Druids had a very natural way of practicing their Religion, and they were very spiritual. All things had balance, and equality. It is an empathy much lacking in more modern religions today.
From the Celtic Tree of Life they found their knowledge, for everything continued in a Cycle, and everyone within the Cycle had a connection. Animals, Plants, Water, Sky, it all joined together to create a rhythm and harmony that still exists in Druid Society's today.
There are a number of good reasons some modern people consider Druidry a valid spiritual path and cultural way of life for the modern times. Some see it as a way to reconnect, or "ground" themselves in history, or to improve their understanding of their origins and ancestors (if they are of Celtic descent). Some are attracted by the relationship with the natural world that a Druid cultivates, or by the artistic, creative methods used to build that relationship.
It is thought by many that the loss of the old ways of living, close to the living Earth and close to our tribes, is responsible for the social and environmental problems we face today, so a return to the old ways will be a healing force in the world in this life and time. Druidism today is not an abandonment of technology, nor is it a rejection of society. It is not a retreat from the world into an illusory garden of delight where problems need not be faced. Rather, it is an affirmation of our needs in this life, and an energetic attempt to take power over them.
There are those who choose Druidism over more conventional Western religions that are more accepted and widespread, such as Christianity. An exploration of Druidism is for many people a revival of one of Western Europe's indigenous spiritualities. Many seek Asatru to revive Northern Europe's spirituality for much of the same reason. To those who feel alienated or harmed by Christianity (and such people are many), and who still believe religion has a place in their lives, Celtic spirituality is a viable, and healthy alternative.
Finally, there are those who choose Druidism over other forms of neo-paganism, or over other religions imported from other parts of the world, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Perhaps a reason for this is because Druidism is indigenous to Europe. It was created and developed by Europeans in the Celtic territories, and while there were influences from the spiritual ideas of cultures in Europe and the Near East, the Druidic spirituality is unique and native to Europe.
There are also special variations of Druidic thought and practice that are unique to each of the Celtic nations. Some of these continue to exist as folk traditions in various parts of Western Europe, and so the revival of Druidry has a familiarity about it for European and European-descended people which other spiritual traditions may not have.
Druidry today is also the subject of academic study. It is often of interest to archaeologists, historians, and mythology-scholars who don't consider themselves Druids, or even remotely pagan. Thus, there is a wealth of serious academic material available concerning the Druids, and many discover Druidism through it.
While there is no doubt that the standards of living and the lifestyles we lead have changed incredibly since the age of the Celts, and even within each of our lifetimes, the human needs for understanding, communication, companionship, and personal empowerment have not changed.
When questioning human life, the age of the answer has no bearing upon its truth. The solution is not more right or more wrong for being old or new. Thus, we continue to be illuminated by history, just as we continue to create it.
As you can see, throughout the course of history, there have been wars and oppression, there has been blood shed and I am sure many tears, but in today’s world the Druid society is still as strong as it was then.
The very heart and nature of the Druids still beats strongly, still respecting the Earth cycles, just as those many who have chosen to walk the path of the Druids.
Now that we have studied the history of this beautiful path, we will now explore the very intricate society within itself. We will uncover the different branches, the different levels and the many people who made the Druid society what is and always will be.
If you have any questions, please post them on the forum. I would like to see some participation in this topic. Talk to you next week!